Loving the Hard-to-love Student

Maybe you have gotten your class list for the upcoming school year and you were eagerly reading it when a name on the page brought you to a screeching halt.

You got THAT KID.

Of all the students that ended up in your class, you ended up with THAT KID.

He is legendary among his former teachers.

The stories you have heard about him are enough to get you to consider retiring at 35.

He may be obnoxious. She may be lazy. He may be disrespectful. She may be argumentative. He may be disliked by every other student. Whatever he may be, he will be a challenge.

Most teachers I know would take a bullet for any one of their kids. We love each and every one of our students…and yet that very student I would jump in front of a bullet for, I can act so unloving with in my daily interactions. I get tired of dealing with the same discipline issues. I get frustrated with their derailing of my plans. I just want them to learn their lesson! I want them to make my life easier! Why do they have to be so difficult?

When I look into God’s Word, I see so many examples of hard-to-love students.

That student who always spoke their mind…that was Peter.

That student who thought that they knew better than the teacher…Well, that was Peter, again.

That student who just never seemed to learn his lesson…that was the entire nation of Israel!

The student who turned against the One pouring His life into him…that was Judas.

The student who whined and complained no matter how much they had been given…that was…Wait. That is me. Don’t I look at all the blessings that God has given me and whine about what I don’t have?

Come to think of it…I am also that student who speaks her mind to God about what I do and don’t like about His plans for my life. I’m that student who turns her back on God and does her own thing many times. I’m the student that never seems to learn the lessons that God is teaching me. I’m the student that thinks I know better than the teacher.

Hmmm…could it just be that I am a hard-to-love student?

That despite all of the good things I may have done…really, I haven’t done anything that could possibly deserve God’s love? That before salvation, I was actually God’s enemy?

And, all of a sudden, that hard-to-love student and I have something in common. A BIG something! Neither one of us deserves love based on our actions and attitudes.

But, you know what? True love doesn’t depend on how much somebody deserves it. True love is unconditional. It is freely given.

How thankful I am that my Heavenly Father didn’t give up loving me. He didn’t love me because I was anything special. He didn’t love me because I deserved that love. He just loved me. That’s who He is.

He loved me so much, that even while I was His enemy, He sent His beloved Son to take my punishment.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, emphasis added)

I have been shown such amazing grace and unconditional love even when I was at my worst.

How can I then, being loved and accepted despite my condition, turn to that hard-to-love student and just let them go?

Give up on them and ride out the year?

Constantly nag at them and their faults?

Speak harshly to them and about them?

Because, you know what? Who doesn’t love the kids who love them back? They’re the easy ones -the ones who scribble “best teacher ever” on their spelling tests, bring you treats and handwritten cards, and just float through your class following all of the rules. It takes a heart changed by Christ to love the student who blatantly disrespects you, shows no regard for your rules, and seems to hate your guts.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies [I certainly hope you don’t consider your student an enemy – but I think the principles here still apply!] , do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse youIf you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (Luke 6:27-28, 32; emphasis added)

Lord, help me to show that student the unconditional love that you have shown to me.

Help me to  faithfully pray for that student…committing to pray for them every single day this year. It’s hard to spend that much time praying for someone without loving them.

Lord, help me to act loving even when I don’t necessarily feel loving. Help me to remember that love is a choice. It is not a feeling. Even when I am struggling with this student, help me to find the next loving thing that I can do for them.

That may mean sending them back to their seat so I can have a moment to pray before dealing with the discipline issue.

That may mean actively looking for something that I can praise them for or thank them for doing.

That may mean slipping a note inside of their desk for them to discover the next day.

That may mean asking them to join me for lunch or an after school snack in the classroom.

That may mean giving up some of my desires and rights to find a way to serve that student. It will mean sacrifice. But the sacrifices I may make don’t come close to the sacrifice that was made for me!

Lord, help me to remember that if this student is hard for me to love, he is probably hard for others to love. If I don’t show him your love, who will?

And most of all, thank you for loving this hard-to-love student so much that you sacrificed all to adopt me into your family. You knew what you were getting – and yet you still chose me.

When I show love to that hard-to-love student, I am living out a picture of the Gospel.  Lord, help this hard-to-love teacher love as she has been loved.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

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Letter to a 1st Year Teacher

Dear First-Year Teacher,

Congratulations on finishing school and getting your first teaching placement! I know that right now you are probably feeling waves of excitement, panic, more excitement, and more panic. It wasn’t too long ago that I was in your shoes! How well I remember those feelings (and, if I’m honest…I still have some of those same feelings a few years later!)

This next year is not going to be easy. You are going to be challenged in ways that you can’t imagine. There will probably be times that you wonder what on earth you just spent four years and thousands of dollars learning…because all of a sudden, you feel like you don’t know anything!

And there will be times of great joy. Joy when you get to witness a student finally understanding a difficult concept; joy when a student accepts Christ as their Savior; joy when you see all that God is going to accomplish this year.

As you prepare for your first year, can I give you some advice? Advice that I am still learning to take myself?

Don’t expect to be perfect

You will make mistakes this year. You will forget to call a parent when you were supposed to. You will probably lose a paper. You will unfairly punish a student. You will have a lesson (or two…or twenty) that you will feel like you bombed. You will not be perfect.

And can I tell you something? Mistakes are okay! You are learning. Nobody expects you to be perfect except you! When your students make mistakes in class, do you tell them that they just aren’t cut out for Math and are failures as students? No! You encourage them that their mistakes are helping them learn. They might not be there yet, but with some more practice, they are going to get it!

But as teachers, we sometimes don’t make very good learners. When we make mistakes, we berate ourselves and convince ourselves that we just are not any good at teaching. We’re failures.

You’re not a failure…you’re learning!

When you do make a mistake, be willing to admit it. Don’t get defensive, don’t shift the blame -just admit that you messed up. Apologize to the child, parent, fellow staff member, or administrator and keep serving the Lord through it all!

 

Be Ready to Learn

You are coming out of school and you have learned so much over the past few years! Add the extra educational books you read “just for fun”, the teacher blogs, and Pinterest…your brain is full! You may feel ready to take on the world with your technology and current best practices in education.

 

With all of your newly acquired knowledge, still ensure that you are willing to listen and learn from those around you.

  • Other Teachers – especially those long-standing veterans! Their 30 years of experience will often trump your college textbooks! Pick their brains for ideas. What has worked for them when they faced different issues? How would they deal with this behavioral problem? How would they phrase this issue when talking with a parent? Just because they may not be on the cutting edge of educational technology doesn’t mean that they don’t have an abundance of wisdom! (I personally wish I could trade some of my technological “expertise” for about 15 year of wisdom and experience!)
  • Your students & parents – be open to their feedback! It doesn’t mean that you have to “give in”, but be willing to listen and consider. Have a humble and open attitude. If a parent complains about a situation, be willing to take a step back and look at it. Go and ask for feedback from an unbiased person. If after listening and examining the situation, you believe that you are in the right, humbly explain your reasoning and see if there is a compromise that can be reached. You don’t need to be a pushover, but you do need to listen.

Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance (Proverbs 1:5)

Practice Gratitude

Keep a gratitude journal. Write down those “little” pockets of joy that come your way throughout the days. When you go to pray, use your gratitude journal to specifically praise the Lord for these instances.

  •  Johnny learned his multiplication tables after he was struggling with them for weeks.
  • Cindy got a B on her History test after you helped her study.
  • Matt’s sparkling grin with his two missing front teeth made you smile.
  • The scribbled “Best teacher ever!” on the back of Hannah’s Spelling test.

Keep record of it all, no matter how small and faithfully thank the Lord for each and every moment of grace.

Satan would love to get you down in the dumps by focusing on the things that go wrong in your class – the F that Jeannie got, the disgruntled parent, the loads of paperwork. He would love to keep you right there. Don’t give him the satisfaction! Those “wrong” moments are also blessings in disguise. Your Heavenly Father is trying to help you learn something! He loves you so much that He is always going to be working to conform you to His image (Romans 8:28-29). God is working His perfect plan throughout it all!

Focus on the blessings that God is lavishing on you and your students…even if those blessings come in untidy packages.

Giving thanks always for all things to God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20, emphasis mine)

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (I Thessalonians. 5:18, emphasis mine)

 

Keep Your Perspective

 

As you juggle the lesson plans, grading, and meetings, don’t forget why you are doing this.

It’s not for the money (I’m pretty sure you already knew that.)

It’s not for the summer break.

It’s not about your own glory (i.e. being a kid’s favorite teacher)

It’s all about Christ.

It’s about how He has loved you so much that you have chosen a profession that will daily give you the opportunity to share that love with your students. It’s about how patient He has been to you so that you can show that patience to your kiddos. It’s about how great God is and getting to show your kids glimpses of Him through the subjects that you teach and the way you relate to them.

We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (Psalm 78:4).

Rely on the Lord

This year will be a roller coaster.  You will be exhausted. There will be tears and there will be laughter. There will be moments of defeat and moments of victory. There will be students that you might not reach but ever so many that you will!

Through the ups and downs, remember that you are not alone. Your Father who has called you to this is faithful to help you through it (I Thessalonians. 5:24).

When you feel overwhelmed, run to Christ for help and trust in what He is doing.

When you feel like things are going great, run to Christ in praise for what He is doing.

The best way to face this upcoming year is not getting a jump start on lesson planning, spending hours on Pinterest, or reading the latest educational articles and books.

The best way you can start this year is on your knees.

The best way you can survive this year is on your knees – pray for your students, their parents, your fellow staff and administration, and pray for yourself, especially for wisdom from the Lord (James 1:5).

In all of the busyness, don’t neglect your relationship with the Lord. You need Him more than anything else this year and every year of your life!

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (I Cor. 15:58)

I am thinking of you as you take on this exciting new year! Love God and love your kids, and you will do great!

In Christ,

Rachel

 

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Finding Peace in the Chaos

Don’t you love stock photos of teachers?

The teacher with every hair perfectly in place…her beautiful unwrinkled button-down shirt. Her glistening white smile. The beautiful chalkboard behind her. Her students sitting in spotless desks with their hands eagerly outstretched, waiting patiently for their turn to talk.

It always looks so calm and peaceful. It doesn’t look like me or my classroom.

My hair is thrown back in a messy bun because I just don’t feel like dealing with it anymore. My shirt is covered in pen marks and fruit cocktail juice (from tearing off those plastic coverings on fruit cups at lunch). I choose to not look at the desks because they give me nightmares. My whiteboard is covered with marker residue, and I have forgotten to change the date at the top again. And the kid with the eagerly outstretched hand…he is already talking and just about falling out of his seat from waving it.

Some days, it’s just a little bit of chaos.

Maybe your classroom is never chaotic – you and your students really do look like those stock photos (you are my hero! Come help me, please!). But the chaos in your life comes from elsewhere – a diagnosis, a failing relationship, financial stress, a breaking heart over a wandering child.

God’s Word has so many examples of people whose lives are in chaos – men and women just like us who feel like they are spinning out of control. Yet many of these men and women still found joy and peace amidst the storms raging around them.

One of my favorite accounts in the Bible is the story of the disciples being tossed around in a boat during a great storm. They are probably struggling to hold on as the winds whip them around. The waves keep pounding their little boat, and soon the water is pouring in and filling up. They are panicked. They are freaking out as they bail water. They are doing everything they know how to do to try and save themselves.

And through it all, Jesus is right there with them…asleep.

The disciples rush over to wake Him up and the accusations fly out of their mouths before they can stop them.

Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?

Oh, the cry of the overwhelmed soul! My heart knows it so well!

Lord, don’t you care that I just lost my teaching position and have to find a new one within a few months?

Lord, don’t you care that I am trying to juggle the demands of teaching with caring for a failing parent?

Lord, don’t you care that I am serving you but struggling to pay the bills?

Lord, don’t you care that I love children but can’t seem to have any of my own?

Lord, don’t you care that a loved one was just diagnosed with cancer?

Lord, don’t you care about the loneliness I feel?

Lord, don’t you care?

And as my heart cries out, the storm keeps raging around me…the water level keeps growing, and the wind threatens to knock me over.

Then, His voice slices through the storm.

Peace, be still.

Instantly the storm ceases.

Imagine the relief of the disciples – one minute they are bailing out water and saying their last prayers, and the next moment the sea is perfectly calm.

Jesus turns to them and lovingly confronts them,

“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

You see, the circumstances had changed for the disciples…but one thing had not changed, and that was their Savior. Christ cut right to the heart of the matter – His disciples were panicking because of a lack of faith. Their gaze was on the storm…not their Savior.

Lack of peace stems from a lack of  faith and focus.

They were never going through that storm alone. Through it all, Christ was right there with His disciples. Yes, for awhile, He was silent…but He was still right there, and He knew exactly what was going on. He brought the disciples to the end of themselves so that He could direct their focus to where it should have been the entire time.

The disciples forgot (or did not truly know, based on their later response) who was in the boat with them.

The secret to peace in the midst of storms is remembering who is in the boat with you. 

God lovingly and ever so carefully brings us through storms to grow us closer to Him. No gust of wind or wave can break over your ship without Him knowing and allowing it. No storm is faced on your own. In fact, He has already successfully faced every storm that you will ever come up against and is waiting to help you to do the same.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are,yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Dear friend, whatever you are facing…you are facing it with Christ right by your side. He is growing your faith by bringing you to the point where you can do nothing else but turn to Him. He wants you to get to know who He is.

If the disciples truly had realized who was in the boat with them, they would have realized that He was…

  • The Creator of all (Ps. 136:5-9, Ps. 95:4-6, Ps. 100:3)
  • Sovereign (Is. 55:8-9, Ps. 115:3, Ps. 138:8)
  • All-powerful (Jer. 32:17, Ps. 147:5)
  • Loving (Ps. 94:18-19,Is. 54:7-10, Rom. 8:35, Jer. 31:3, Ps. 117:2)

In your storm, turn your gaze to whom your God is. Remind yourself of His promises. Cling to His character. Your chaos is not too much for Him to handle.

Peace, just like joy, is not a feeling that depends on circumstances. It’s a fruit that the Spirit grows in our lives as we get to know our God more and more.  Run to Him – knowing Him is the true and only source of lasting peace!

A few of my favorite resources if you are facing your own storm…

*Please note that I do not necessarily endorse every aspect of the above resources, but they are ones that I have personally found to be helpful for me!

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The Joyful Teacher

 

Have you ever met a Christian who just doesn’t seem very happy?

I mean, they always seem to walk around with a perpetual scowl on their faces.

As you stand in the pew behind them at church, you observe them singing “there is joy, joy, joy in serving Jesus”…but if that’s what their joy looks like, you would hate to see what they would look like if their dog died.

It seems kind of strange that someone who has had an unimaginable debt paid off by God’s Son, has been welcomed into the family of God, and has Heaven to look forward to one day…isn’t very happy.

As Christian teachers, we need to especially be sensitive to the fact that dozens – perhaps hundreds of pairs of young and easily influenced eyes are watching us from “the pew behind”.  And whether they realize it or not, those students are making their own evaluations of Christianity based on what they are seeing. If they observe Christians who are never happy, who are always grumbling over finances, administration, difficult students…why would they want to have that? 

If that’s the “joy in serving Jesus”, they are pretty sure they would get more joy working on Wall Street or being a professional football player…or even flipping burgers, for that matter. All those people certainly look happier than the Christians that they know.

 

According to the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, joy should be one of the hallmarks of a Christian’s life. A lack of joy is a glaring “check engine light” that something in our spiritual walk is not right. It is important to note that the Fruit of the Spirit is a work of the Holy Spirit in my life and not something that I can cultivate on my own. My job is cultivate the soil for the Spirit to work by spending time with God in His Word, prayer, and the fellowship of other believers.

 

  1. Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances because it depends on the presence of God.

The joy mentioned in Galatians 5 is so much more than a feeling or an emotion. This joy doesn’t depend on circumstances – we can have this type of joy after a super rough day in the classroom or a terrible parent-teacher conference. No, I am not saying that we need to keep a fake smile plastered to our face in the midst of everything going wrong…our kids know the difference between genuine joy and “faking-it”. However, joy does mean that even on the worst days, I remember that I am a child of the King. God loved me so much that He sent His Son to die for me…and He is not going to leave me alone to figure the rest of this life out (Phil. 1:6). 

That joy can look different depending on the days. Some days, by God’s grace,  it will be a genuine smile despite the difficulties you’re facing. Other days it may look like being transparent with your students in your disappointments, but then using the opportunity to point all of your hearts back to the promises of Scripture (of course, always use discernment when sharing personal stuff!).

I love this passage from Habakkuk where the prophet says…

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s, he makes me tread on high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Habakkuk is basically saying that even if the worst happens (no food, no form of livelihood…NOTHING), He can rejoice because he has Christ. And isn’t Christ enough?

As teachers, can we say the same thing?

Hab3.17.19

Maybe you are in a tough time right now – you were let go from your position, you have a difficult summer job, you are moving to a new school, or there are problems with loved ones close to you.

Remember, in all of this – YOU HAVE CHRIST and He alone is the true source of joy! When we believe that a certain relationship, job, opportunity, hobby, etc. will bring us joy, we are being deceived. That longed for opportunity may bring happiness temporarily…but that’s it. Once we get that, we’ll want something else. It’s the good old “if-you-only-get-me-this-for-Christmas-I-won’t-ask-for-anything-more” syndrome. Have you ever heard that with your kids (or been guilty of saying it yourself?)? Your child may have genuinely been convinced that this toy was all that they would ever want in life…but it doesn’t take long (24 hours? A few days?) before they are wanting something more.  That’s because God created us to only find true joy and satisfaction in Him.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11, emphasis added)

So if you are struggling in the joy department, listen to the warning signs and check your heart – where is it that you are searching for joy apart from Christ?

2. Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances because it depends on the promises of God

 

Of course, God’s presence is one of His promises and we could pretty must just park it right there and call it a day. But wait, there’s more!! Scripture is filled with some of His very specific and precious promises to us. When you’re struggling with joy, write these verses down on index cards and post them around your home and workplace. Memorize them. Every time Satan tries to steal your joy, throw him a few of these!

I can’t be joyful because…

  • I am uncertain about the future (Rom. 8:28-29, Matthew 6:25-34, Joshua 1:9)
  • I am in a series of difficult circumstances right now (II Cor. 12:9, Hebrews 4:14-16)
  • I am facing something impossible (Jer. 32:27, Job 37:5, II Cor. 9:8, Eph. 3:20)
  • I have messed up too badly for God to use me (I John 1:9, Ps. 32:5, Ps. 86:5, Is. 1:18)

Armed with the presence and promises of God, what can steal our joy from us?

So, do you show to your students that there is indeed joy in serving Jesus?

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Dear Worn-Out, Run-Down, Absolutely Exhausted Teacher

Dear Worn-Out, Run-Down, Absolutely Exhausted Teacher,
Wow – you have almost made it! It is May and the countdown has begun! I know you are tired – deep down to your toes tired. And no wonder! For the past nine months you have poured yourself into your students. By God’s grace you have loved them. You have prayed for them. You have shouldered their burdens. You have cried for them. You have rejoiced with them. You have encouraged them. You have counseled them…and oh, yes – you’ve also taught them English or Math somewhere along the way.
You’re probably sick after your body has finally surrendered to the germs it has been battling all year long.
Even though you are exhausted, you’re probably not sleeping well because of the gazillion school-related thoughts and to-do lists going through your head at night.
You’re stressed when you look at all the curriculum and special events that need to be crammed into the next few weeks.
Your patience is wearing thin – it seems like you have been dealing with some of the same behavior and discipline problems for the entire nine months. Your kids have spring fever and all of those classroom management routines and academic skills you have drilled into them seem to have vanished.
You are discouraged. You haven’t reached them all. You look out at the sea of faces and see the one student you felt like you could never connect with. You see the student who has hardened their heart towards God. You see the student who may fail and need summer school. You feel like you have failed.
You feel like it is taking everything in you to drag yourself across the finish line of the school year.
But God’s not done with you, yet.
When you are tired, you are extra vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. He would love to see you fizzle out at the end of the year – just focusing on enduring the final days instead of thriving.He would love to see you stop leaning on the love and power of God that has been sustaining you all year long.
Don’t let him.
I can guarantee that you can’t finish this year well in your own strength, but you don’t have to. Finish this year strong, relying on God’s strength. In all of the busyness and exhaustion, cling so closely to your God. Spend a little extra time in prayer and His Word. Keep your gaze firmly fixed on Him and all that He has done this year.
Instead of focusing on how far your students still have to go, take a moment to realize how far they have come.
Instead of focusing on how you have failed this year, take a moment to see the moments of God’s grace in your classroom. You weren’t a perfect teacher – there’s no such thing. You probably did fail in some areas this year (in fact, I can guarantee it!), but remember that God delights in using broken things to accomplish His purposes. God chose you to be the teacher for your class this year – He didn’t make a mistake. You were where you were exactly when you were supposed to be there. He wanted to use you to teach them…and He wanted to use them to teach you. Look for the moments of His grace and spend time thanking Him for them instead of wallowing in where you feel that you failed.
In the stressful and overwhelming days yet to come, don’t forget your students. Don’t get so wrapped up in rushing through curriculum and packing things up that you fail to really enjoy your last few days with them. Stop running around for a minute and just observe them. Relish the joy on their faces as they tell you a story. Delight in the smiles and laughter they share with their friends. Look back at their pictures from the beginning of the year and see how much they have grown up. Have times where you put aside your to-do list and just love your kiddos for these final days. Use these days to direct their eyes towards God and all He has accomplished this year.
Yes, you are tired. You feel like you are completely done.
But God’s not done.
He is still at work in you and your students.
Lean on His everlasting arms and finish the race strong.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

Surely God is good!

Love,

A fellow worn-out, run-down, absolutely exhuasted teacher

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Instructing a Child’s Heart Review + Giveaway

Who is ready for a giveaway?! I firmly believe that you can never have too many books, so I am going to try to add one more to your resource library! 🙂

Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd & Margy Tripp is a tremendous resource for anyone who works with children! While written specifically for parents, there was sooooo much in here that I took away as a Christian teacher desiring to help her students grow in Christ. The Tripps’ goal is not to give a simple three-step method to change the behavior of a child.  It is all about using God’s principles to help form the hearts of our students. More than geared towards “fixing” our children, it challenges us as authorities to examine our motives and methods behind the way we teach our children.

Our objective when we teach our children is not simply to ensure…that our children are not criminals or that they “do well”. Rather, our desire is that they should love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind.  (Tedd & Margy Tripp)

Our goal is to help our students love and glorify God. How do we do this when they are bombarded with different “truths” on all sides of them?

They hear one thing from their friends.

They hear one thing from the media.

They hear yet another thing from their parents and teachers.

Then they hear things from God’s Word.

Whose instruction is winning out?

Throughout the book, the term “formative instruction” is used frequently. According to the Tripps, formative instruction is “teaching that ‘forms’ our children…[it] is ‘before the problem instruction’. Its focus is interpreting and responding to life in biblical ways.” Formative instruction is the the way that we weave the Gospel, Scripture, and our view of God into the daily moments that make up life.

I love the idea that we are constantly using this formative instruction to help our students build a biblical framework before trouble/discipline hits.Times of discipline can’t be the only times that we hit our students with Scripture. if we do that, they are very likely to resent Scripture! Also, the Tripps point out a truth that we know probably all too well…

We never do our best teaching when we are in a discipline situation…if we try to do our formative instruction in the context of corrective discipline, our focus will be too narrow. We will miss the big picture – the opportunity to teach a worldview.

Instructing a Child’s Heart is a book that will encourage and challenge you. Filled with Scripture and a focus on the Gospel and our great God, this book is a resource that will help you in journey as a teacher or parent.  It is a book that will help to refocus your gaze on God and how our view of God trickles down to our children.

Parenting [Teaching]that exhibits a vital relationship with God in all the joys and storms of life is irresistible to children and young people. Conversely, the surest way to harden our children’s hearts to God and his ways is “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (II Tim. 3:5)

Shepherd’s Press has graciously donated a copy of Instructing a Child’s Heart for a giveaway. I was not paid for this review, and all opinions expressed are my own. 

 

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Teaching Tough Students

We all have those students.

The ones who know exactly which of our buttons to push and seem to take great delight in pushing them!

The ones who moan and groan over every request we make of them.

The ones who stir up trouble among their classmates.

The ones who just never seem to obey.

And if you are like me, my patience can begin to wear thin.

The year goes on, and I get tired of dealing with the same issues again and again. Why can’t they just learn their lesson?

While dealing with a group of particularly difficult students one year, I was struck with the story of another person who had to lead a pretty tough group.  His name was Moses, and he had the opportunity to lead the people of Israel through the wilderness after being freed from slavery. Now, you need to know some things about this group of people…

They complained (A LOT).

They didn’t listen (A LOT).

They didn’t obey (A LOT).

They just couldn’t seem to learn their lesson (A LOT).

Sound like anyone you might know?  😉

Poor Moses. What a group! After seeing God provide for them again and again, the Israelites were again complaining because they were thirsty. They  were personally attacking Moses – why have you brought us out here to die? (sounds like my students in Math class!). So Moses went before the Lord with their complaint. God instructed him to speak to a rock and water would come out for the people.  So armed with the promise of God, Moses went before the Israelites at the rock…and directly disobeyed God. Instead of speaking to the rock, he took his staff and struck it. Water still came out despite his disobedience. The Israelites were happy…but God was not. What’s up?

Moses was frustrated with leading this rebellious people. He grew angry and lashed out. He got results, but he went about it completely in the wrong way.

I do the same thing. Many times I feel like I am figuratively “striking the rock” with my difficult students. I get frustrated. I grow impatient and angry. I let unkind  and harsh words fly out. And you know what? Sometimes there may be results. That tough student may shape up…but I have dishonored God in the process.

You know what is interesting? When God spoke with Moses about his sin, he didn’t specifically mention his anger. Anger wasn’t the problem – it was simply a symptom of something going on in Moses’ heart.

And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12)

God got right to the root – Moses was angry because he didn’t believe God.

I realized that my problem with these difficult students was not my impatience and anger. My real problem was that I wasn’t believing God.

  • That He was the one who had placed these students in my life (Rom. 8:28-29)
  • That He would give me the grace and patience to lead them (I Thess. 5:24)
  • That He is the one who could change their hearts…not me (Jer. 24:7, Ps. 51:10).
  • That He is enough for me…no matter what kind of students, the kind of day, or the kind of school year that I may be facing (Ps. 16:11).

When I don’t believe God’s promises and react wrongly to my difficult students, I have not glorified Him. I have not shown them the greatness of their God. I haven’t shown them a glimpse of His character. Even if they shape up and became a model student, if I have not showed God to them, I have failed. After all, the sole purpose of our life (which certainly includes our teaching, discipline, etc.) is to glorify God.

In him [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestinedaccording to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:11-12).

 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31).

Moses failed to believe God, and as a result, God was not glorified among His people. I don’t want to make the same mistake in my teaching!

So how can we make sure we aren’t “striking the rock” as Moses did?

  1. Stay in a close relationship with the Lord – stay in His Word and spend time in prayer. We can’t show our students someone that we don’t know very well.
  2. Memorize & meditate on God’s Promises – this goes along with #1. It’s hard to believe and depend on the promises of someone that we don’t know. What promises do you have trouble believing about God and His working in your life? Commit them to memory – write them on index cards and stick them around your home and classroom. When you are tempted to doubt, preach those verses right back to yourself.
  3. Remember God’s work in your own heart – how many times have I repeatedly disobeyed God? Over and over again in His Word, He tells me what to do. Over and over again, I choose to do my own thing and suffer the consequences. I repent and turn back to Him…and do it all over again. I’m a pretty slow learner. I’m not too different from my difficult students! Yet God has shown me such amazing love and grace! How can I not let that same love and grace spill over to my difficult students?

How about you? What characteristics or promises of God help you in dealing with challenging students?

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The Dangers of Good Kids

We all have our “good” kids.

The ones who are responsible, turn in their projects and homework on time, and get good grades.

The ones who never have to stand out minutes from recess, get demerits, or detentions.

The ones who don’t cause us much (if any!) trouble!

We are relieved to have these students in our classroom, because there are some others (ahem) who are quite the opposite. Those other students tend to take up a lot of our time and energy.

Our “good” kids can slide through the year, and we assume that they are doing just fine spiritually. It’s Johnny and his disrespectful attitude  or Janie and her rebellious heart that we are worried about.

But many times, our good kids need us to get involved in their lives just as much as the tough students need us.

Here are a few issues that can tend to affect these good kids.

Pride  & Hypocrisy

Some students take pride in their clean records. They look down on their classmates who are always getting in trouble or struggling with low grades. Many times this pride will become evident to others, but sometimes students (and teachers, too!) can hide it behind false humility.

Have you ever thought about the type of students the Pharisees would make? Talk about rule followers – these guys were champions! They had a loooooong list of rules and they pretty much followed them all to a “t” (and my students struggle with the 5 rules in my classroom!). The Pharisees were very religious and very proud of their accomplishments…but they didn’t have a heart for God. Christ had some hard-to-hear words for these religious leaders of his day.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28)

We need to be so careful as teachers that we don’t emphasize outward keeping rules over a relationship with God. Now, the two aren’t exclusive – after all, God does say, “if ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). But following God’s commands should stem from a love for Him…it’s not about obeying commands just for the sake of following the rules. With the help of the Lord, we should always seek the hearts of our students and not just what is seen on the outside.

For these students, we need to lovingly show them God’s view of pride.

Pride and arrogance and the way of evil  and perverted speech I hate (Prov. 8:13b)

 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

But we also need to show them the greatness of their God! Only when we see God as He really is can we see ourselves as we truly are. Help them to see His forgiveness of their sin and His grace that gives them the gifts that they have.  When I am focusing on all that I have been forgiven of, I don’t have time to look at all the things that others need to be forgiven of.

Love of Approval

I have always been more of a rule-keeping “good girl” – and many times I did really want to please the Lord. But I also loved the approval of others. When I obeyed, I found out that life worked out pretty well. I would look at the other kids in my class who were getting in trouble, and I just didn’t get it. It seemed so simple – just obey the rules and you won’t get into trouble!

Yet, I had my own idol to deal with – the idol of approval. Oh, how I craved it (and still do!). But I should not be controlled by what others think about me – I need to be controlled by God’s love for me. I need to live for Him, not for others.

 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (II Cor. 5:14-15)

When I had the opportunity to work with some inmates in a detention center, I realized that this “squeaky-clean” church girl had a lot more in common with these inmates than I would ever have thought. Some of them were in there because they wanted the approval of others and so they______________ (fill in the blank). We shared the exact same idols in our hearts – they just manifested themselves differently in the circumstances we found ourselves in.

Performance Treadmill

In his book, Transforming Grace, Jerry Bridges uses the term “the performance treadmill” to describe the idea of the desperate, continual working to gain God’s acceptance instead of realizing that God’s acceptance is not based on our work.

Some of our good kids genuinely do have a heart for the Lord, but they don’t have an accurate understanding of God.

Perhaps some are trying to earn their salvation – for these students, we need to show them Scripture that helps them to see that their good works do nothing towards salvation. We can only be saved through placing our faith in Jesus Christ.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Is. 64:6)

Some students have accepted the Lord as their Savior, but they are trying to earn God’s approval and acceptance – even though it has already been given to them at salvation! They keep all the rules because they want to impress God,  or they feel that God will love them more the better they are.

Jerry Bridges uses the example of the disciple Peter to help us see God’s unconditional love. Peter had some pretty big failures in his life – but God still loved and blessed him despite his failures.

God blessed Peter, not in spite of his sins, but without regard to his sins. That’s the way His grace operates. It looks not to our sins or even to our good deeds but only to the merit of Christ. (Jerry Bridges)

We need to help these students see that God’s love for us is not dependent on our performance. It is unconditional!

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have continued my faithfulness to you (Jer. 31:3b)

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

As teachers, do we show God’s unconditional love to our students? Or does our love/treatment  of them depend on how their day is going? One thing that I have implemented this year is giving each of my elementary students a hug or a handshake (their choice) at the end of the day before they leave the classroom. My hope is that this  small gesture can help to show them that no matter how their day went, I still love them.

Discouragement

Some students don’t fall into the above categories – they genuinely do want to serve the Lord and are seeking to live lives that are honoring to Him. They understand God’s unconditional love.

But it’s hard to be the “goody-two-shoes”. It’s hard to always be standing up for what’s right and being laughed at or left out. They may not vocalize it or show it, but we need to encourage them! Find little times to share a smile or an “I’m really proud of you…”

Drop a quick note to them – who doesn’t love getting mail or discovering a note tucked inside of their desk?

 

Just because our good kids are the “easy” kids in the class doesn’t mean that they don’t need help, too! May the Lord help us reach all of our students!

What other struggles do you see pop up in the lives of your good kids? How do you find is the best way to approach and help them?

 

A few of my favorite resources…

Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges – an amazing book that really helped me in the area of working so hard to gain God’s approval.

Sidney & Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs  by Phil Vischer – This is probably one of my favorite books to read aloud to an elementary class. It deals with both types of students – the students who struggle to obey all of the rules and the students who find it easy to follow the rules and pride themselves on their achievements…and shows them that God doesn’t love them based on what they do – He just loves them.

 

 

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It’s Okay to Just Say “No”

Teachers have big hearts.

We love to serve others.

We love to jump in and help.

That’s why we are teachers. But what happens when that desire to serve almost crushes us under the weight of many obligations that we have voluntarily put ourselves under? Extra activities and responsibilities at school, church ministry opportunities, and family obligations can threaten to topple us over.

It might be time to learn how to say “no.”

This is a skill that I am currently working on learning 🙂 It’s such a small word but soooo hard to say! When a request comes your way,  learn to not answer right away. It’s okay to say, “can I get back to you on that?” . That will give you time to think through it, pray about it, and seek counsel. As you look at the opportunity, here are a few principles to keep in mind.

Check your motives 

When I am approached with a request, what is my motivation in accepting (or rejecting) it? Many times my motivation lies in  my pride. I am naturally a people pleaser. I love for everyone around me to be happy, and especially for them to be happy with me. Saying “yes” to something makes people smile at me – they thank me. They think that I am wonderful. And I feel wonderful…until I realize what I just got myself into.

True confession – I have recently been looking at the many different things that I am involved in and was feeling overwhelmed. There just wasn’t enough time to do everything and to do it well.  I began working on how to let the leader of our public school Bible club  know that I would need to step down for next year. That very day, as I was thinking about how best to talk to her and explain my reasons…a few of us (including the leader) were discussing the idea of having some of our high schoolers create some wordless books for the kids, and before I could fully grasp what was happening, I was volunteering to take on that new project including getting permission from administration and parents. I climbed into my car, shell-shocked at how I had planned on giving something up – only to take on an additional responsibility! Yet, I had no one to blame but myself – I wanted everyone to be happy so I said “yes”.

If the only reason you are not saying “no”  is because you don’t want to displease someone, that should at least make you stop and take some time to think through your decision!

Another thing to check is your view of God. Sometimes I say “yes” to new ministries because I have a wrong view of God. I should be serving Him out of gratitude for what He has done for me – yet sometimes I find myself slipping into the thoughts of trying to impress God or earn His love and approval. But just as I was saved by grace and not by good works (Eph. 2:8-9), I also live by grace. God loves me the same no matter what I do!

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Check your priorities

So maybe you have checked your motives and they are honestly good – you really just want to serve God or others in this way. Does that mean you should say “yes”? Well, not necessarily!

There are many genuine needs that I feel burdened to help out with…but I can’t do them all. How do I decide what to say “yes” to and what to politely decline? It can help to sit down and decide your priorities.

  1. Your relationship with the Lord – this must be first. It can be easy to get so busy serving God that we neglect to build our relationship with Him through quiet time in prayer and His Word. If I say “yes”, will this new responsibility hinder my time and energy to spend with Lord? Martha learned this – she was working so hard for the Lord, yet her service became a distraction. 

    And she [Martha] had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. (Luke 10:39-40A).  

  2. Your Family – I grew up as a missionary kid, and I am so thankful that I got to see the way my parents lived this out. Your family is your first ministry – not your students. If you say “yes”, how will that affect your family?

After those two priorities, you will have to finish the list on your own 😉 ! Involvement in your local church should be high on the list (Hebrew 10:25), taking care of yourself by having the time to eat right and exercise (I Cor. 6:19), and your students should also be somewhere on that list. Ask yourself – if you say “yes” to this new opportunity, what will you have to say “no” to in order to make it work? At this point of my life, my students are my main ministry. For me, I ultimately had to make the decision to say “no” to the Bible club ministry because I saw that it was draining time and energy away from my own students. Also,  in doing everything, I was not doing anything really well – just keeping my head above water.

Also a quick note here on priorities – you need to have some time to take care of yourself and recharge.  Just because there are 24 hours in the day and 7 days in a week, you don’t have you use up every single one! Now, we have to be careful here – there is a balance between hoarding our time for pleasure and realizing that we honestly do need to take time to recharge. God did not design us to run continuously – even Jesus had several times on earth where He went away from the crowds to rest and recharge. If the Son of God needed to rest during His time here on earth, so do we!

Keep a Servant’s Heart

It is okay to say “no”. But it is not okay to do it without a willing heart. Here’s what I mean – a servant’s heart is not quick to say “no” – it hears the person out and gives thoughtful consideration to what they are asking. A servant’s heart does not keep score of its service and smugly review it while looking down on others’ lack of service. A servant’s heart does not complain about all that it already has to do. A servant’s heart is not defensive. It is a heart that is willing to serve however God calls, but it humbly realizes that it can’t do everything.

If you have prayed through the decision and feel that it is not something that you can undertake right now, be honest with the person who asked you. Kindly explain to them, “You know what, I really appreciate your asking me to volunteer, but right now I am really focusing on my ministry to my students. I feel that if I helped out here, I wouldn’t have the time/energy/etc. that I really need to give to them. Thanks so much for thinking of me!”

If you really feel burdened to help – get creative! Perhaps there is another less time-consuming way that  that you could help (i.e. instead of teaching AWANAS every week, you can make cookies once a month or once every other month for it.) For me, with the Bible club ministry, I offered to substitute occasionally.

Finally, remember this: if you have prayed through this decision, you do not need to feel guilty. Live for an audience of One – if your decision is what you believe will best glorify God, then you don’t need to worry about the approval of others!

Alright, everyone, let’s practice saying it together -“Noooo….”

 

 

 

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The Comparison Game

I wish I had her class.

I wish I taught at that school.

I wish I was as creative a she is…

The comparison game – played by many of us, and won by none of us. How quick I am to look at your personality, your classroom, your life, and immediately place my own personality, classroom, and life side by side with yours. I want to know how I measure up. I want to know my value in relationship to yours.

See, the comparison game is quite a dangerous game. It never ends well! When I play it, I typically fall in one of two ways…and they both involve me losing!

Comparison is the thief of joy. (Theodore Roosevelt)

1. Envy & Self-pity

I look at your life, the students you have, the teaching abilities you have, and I want them instead of what I have.  I begin to think in if only’s…

  • If only I had your high achieving, well-behaved class…
  • If only I had the supportive parents you have….
  • If only I had your personality as a teacher…
  • If only I had your sense of humor…
  • If only I had your ability to lead…

But the if only’s offer a dangerous lie – that if only I had what you had, I could be happy. Any time that I look for my joy outside of Christ, I am treading on dangerous ground.

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)

God gave you your class, your abilities, and your life. He gave me mine – and I can be content with what I have because He promises His presence. Maybe He has given me a load that appears more difficult than yours, but He promises His grace to help me bear what He has given me (II Cor. 12:9).

Contentment comes when I find my value in Christ and not in how I measure up to you. If I am His child, I am loved and accepted the way I am – warts and all! Christ knew my sinfulness and weakness, but He still chose to save me. If I cannot find contentment and security in Him, I will never find it!

This is not to say that I shouldn’t learn from you and your strengths – but instead of envying your abilities, I should be thankful for them. I should let you know that. I should ask for suggestions in improving. But I should not envy you. I can be thankful that God blessed me with areas I need to grow in…if I was perfect, I wouldn’t need to depend on Him. (If you struggle with perfectionism, please check out what I wrote here).  I can be thankful that as a body of Christ, God has given us different abilities and jobs. One of us is is not more important than another member – we are all working together to bring glory to God (I Cor. 12:12-26).

2. Pride & Self-sufficiency

This is my response when I compare myself with you and find that I am “better”. I become proud that I would never talk to a student that way. I am proud that can get my students to behave in the hallway or lunchroom. I am proud that even though I may not be the best teacher, at least I am better than you. 

But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (II Corinthians 10:12b)

My pride shows my foolishness. If I have abilities or good circumstances, why would I think that am responsible for them? Yes, I have probably had to work hard to develop a good classroom management system or develop creative lessons…but if it weren’t for God, would I be able to do any of it? Isn’t God the One who gave me my gifts and talents? I may have honed them, but I can’t develop what I don’t have to begin with!

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (I Corinthians. 4:7)

And just as the if only’s, my pride also puts me on dangerous ground. I am finding my value and joy in accomplishments instead of Christ…and what’s worse, I am taking His credit for it!

So, how do you stop playing the comparison game? Start a new game – a  game of gratitude! When you are tempted to start comparing yourself to someone else, stop. Begin praying and thanking the Lord for what He has given you – be specific! Gratitude solves both problems – I can’t be envious and full of self-pity when I see all that God has blessed me with. I also can’t be proud because I realize that God has blessed me with all that I have. Find your joy in Christ alone – nothing else will satisfy!

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